ralph robert moore
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Copyright © 2002 by Ralph Robert Moore.
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Return to lately 2002.
the most romantic notion in the world
april 6, 2002
I wake up in the middle of the night.
It's not unsettling when I do. It happens at least once every night, often several times, one of those odd moments when you're alone with yourself. Like when you first feel a toothache. Or go to the bathroom, getting all that death out of you.
I usually fall asleep easily. Who falls asleep first, Mary or me, changes. Sometimes I hear her exhales, sometimes I drift off while she's still getting her ear in the exact right position against her pillow. Our TV is in our bedroom. Because of that, one or the other of us will sometimes drowse off during a show. I can always tell when I'm starting to slip under, because each time my mind will take a phrase I've heard on TV, and use that phrase to start a conversation between two relaxed voices in my head, a conversation that wanders further and further from the TV dialogue. For example, during a commercial the TV will say, "Only $19.95!" (almost everything sold nowadays through 800 numbers on TV costs $19.95, or some increment thereof, they must have done a study), and the dialogue in my head starts with the figure $19.95, but soon, as my head nods, it's taking place in an air control tower, the 19.95 is a coordinate on the air controller's grid, and two of the controllers are talking about the best way to establish a lawn, sod versus seed. When I nod off during a TV show, I'm often not sure if I actually fell asleep or just thought I did, but of course, if you're uncertain if you fell asleep, that always means you did.
When I'm actually ready for sleep, after the lights are out, and the soft pressure of Mary's goodnight kiss is still tingling my lips, I usually think about preparing different meals. In my submerging mind, bubbles rising, I'll see a pounded veal scaloppini being laid in a skillet, the expected sizzle, and look at the green seasonings I've pressed into it as the moisture from the meat exudes drops on the upper side, as the edges brown and curl. I rarely get through a whole meal, to the plating.
Mary on the other hand, from what she's told me, will think of a room in our house, and try to discern what lies beyond the walls of that room. For example, the toilet alcove in our master bathroom. What's on the other side of the rear wall? Is it the kitchen, or the garage?
When I wake up in the middle of the night, though, I try not to think of anything, because any thought that dark hour, one in the morning, two-thirty, can lead to too many other thoughts.
This past Tuesday, I woke up, had no idea if I had only been asleep an hour, or if it was five minutes before the alarm would go off. In the bedroom darkness I raised my head with a lot of elbow action, squinted at the red numbers. 1:19. To me, that was the best time to wake up, because 1:19 means January 19, which is our wedding date. Mary was on her back, exhaling, the cats curled around us. I thought about cooking a lobster, a good-sized one, then pulling the cartoony red and white meat out of the shells, artistically arranging the hot pieces on a black plate. When that visualization didn't work, I looked at the digital alarm clock again. 1:33. How strange. That was the street number of the house where I grew up, 133 Lake Avenue, Greenwich, Connecticut.
I remembered for the first time in decades a clearing I used to sometimes take as a shortcut between my childhood home and Greenwich Avenue.
Greenwich, Connecticut was one of the best places to spend a childhood. Lots of parks and woods, granite buildings, a large harbor on the Atlantic Ocean where blue and white yachts docked. (I remember my father telling me, at an age when I was still getting my height measured against the dining room doorway, If anyone asks where you're from, tell them Greenwich, and that Greenwich is about fifty miles from New York City. Typical practical fatherly advice. I also remember him sitting with me on a sofa in our living room once, when I was so young my feet didn't reach to the floor, paging through a copy of Life magazine with me, showing me how the articles in a magazine are sometimes interrupted by full-page ads).
We lived on Lake Avenue, which was actually a pretty nice area of town, houses set back from the road, green lawns and trees everywhere. Greenwich Avenue, the business district, was about a half hour's walk away, if you stuck to the sidewalks.
There was a shortcut, though. You walked down a couple of streets, then halfway up one, and cut up the driveway of the only black church in town. Behind the church was a wide field, probably two blocks in size.
I never understood why it was there. The land all around it was developed, but here, in the center, was nothing but this football field expanse of weedy grass with, to the right, a concrete sidewalk from another age, its squares cracked and tilted, several trees growing through its white length.
High hedges along the perimeters gave it a hidden feel, despite its size.
When I was a little kid, I used to take the shortcut all the time with my friends. It cut ten minutes off our trip.
As I got older, fourteen or so, and walked more and more frequently alone, the shortcut started to scare me. Occasionally I'd find other people in this hidden field, walking in the opposite direction. Once in a rare while they were women, usually black, shoulders see-sawing as they carried their handled shopping bags, but more frequently it became middle-aged white men, who would stop and watch as I walked through the weeds. Once or twice, when they tried to start a conversation with me, stepping off the sidewalk (I always walked in the field itself), heading towards me, I'd hurry my sneakers to get past them, down the driveway of the black church, back out onto the regular sidewalk, where cars were going by, and people who looked like aunts and uncles were walking. A few times, I had to run to evade them.
Eventually, I stopped using the shortcut. I sensed, even though I wasn't sure why, that the shortcut was no longer wholesome.
For the past ten years or so, I've had recurring dreams where I'm on the safe sidewalks, going into town under the trees, and suddenly, I start to glide forward, as if I were on a skateboard, rather than step, step.
I'm astounded at first at this ability of mine to not have to lift my knees, to just stand while I glide briskly forward, but then I recall I've done this before, and in fact used to always glide over sidewalks, rather than walk. Each time, each dream, I'm skeptical at first when I remember how I used to travel, but then I touch something in my mind, and I'm gliding.
This dream is somewhat similar to another recurring dream I've had for as long as I can remember, where I'm flying. What's interesting to me about the flying dreams is that I don't fly in a prone position like Superman, belly down, arms out, but rather, always, in a seated position. I'd be curious to know how many other people have had this same dream.
The dream usually starts with me in my childhood bedroom, the east window of which overlooked our driveway and granite garage, one story down. Someone is talking to me, reminding me about the times I flew in the air above my family's house.
Eventually, after they talk to me long enough, I kind of remember that what they're saying is true. Sometimes in the dreams, I open the east window to my bedroom, and step out onto the air, sitting on it as if it's a beanbag, eventually letting go of the opened window's bottom sill, bobbing slightly on the air, as if on water. Other times, I sneak downstairs, tiptoe past my parents' shut door off the living room, sneak out the screened back door, and, in the dark driveway, settle my ass down on the air, surprised I don't fall backwards onto the gravel.
Either way, the voice coaches me, which usually takes a while, ten minutes or so, into getting into the right mind set, after which, Wow!, I start to jerk up into the air, in a barcalounger position.
Once I'm gliding around in the air, swirling over the driveway, rising above our house's rooftop, I occasionally dip slightly, as I question my belief that I actually can fly, but I always get my faith back before I hit the driveway, and after a while, I have complete control over the seated flying. My family is sleeping, and here I am outside my bedroom window, flying around, over the tall treetops, over the cars chasing their yellow headlights on the street below. It's exhilarating. Each time, it astounds me I forgot I had this ability.
The flying reminds me of one early evening I spent by myself in our backyard.
We had two backyards, actually.
There was the backyard immediately beyond the screened back porch, where the family would barbeque, and occasionally play, then, if you walked up the stone steps at the back of that yard, huge, yellow forsythia bushes on the right, the granite garage on the left, you'd step up into what our family called 'the big backyard' (I used this two-tiered backyard arrangement in my story, The Rape).
It was large. You could build a house on it. Flat lawn, tall hedges all around for privacy. To the left was a door leading into the garage's attic, where my father stored a lot of worthless metal stuff, floorboards unsafe, light shining through the wood in too many places. In front of the door to the garage attic was a vegetable garden we planted each summer, where I received my first scar, which I still have, between my right index and middle finger, in that webby hollow, when a yellow jacket settled there and backed his vibrating stinger into my flesh.
In front of the garden, still on the left, was an old, black-limbed pear tree, whose fruit I sometimes ate, inspecting each intended bite, and across whose upper limbs I built my only tree house, a sad, sorry structure of three flat boards nailed down, no walls or ceiling. I'd sit up in it occasionally, and it did have a thick rope hanging from its platform, both ends unraveled like straw, with knotted intervals in its coarse length for a quick ascent or descent.
The early evening I remember in the big back yard was when I went up there with a toy.
The toy was a small red rocket made of plastic, which you could fit into a blue plastic, hand-held launching pad.
The rocket had a hole in its bottom. You held it upside down, filled it with water from a hose, then slid it upside down onto the launching pad. Once it was wetly secure, you'd use the straight-line pump at the back of the launching pad to pump as much air up into the rocket as possible, increasing the pressure within the rocket until it was ready to burst, pointing it at the sky, and slide back the tab holding the rocket to the pad, so the rocket would shimmy up into the air above the release of pressure.
The rocket itself was a wonderful, plastic ruby color. It was shaped in an art deco style, like something from a futuristic poster from the nineteen-twenties, with, around its bottom, three oversized fins that in the elegant utilitarianism of their lines looked positively pre-war Germanic.
The key of course was pumping as much air as possible into the upright rocket, to get it to soar as high as possible. I can still recall how I'd clench my teeth, face turned sideways, forearm vibrating, trying to force just one last pump up into the ruby plastic.
This was in the early sixties, while the Soviet Union was still ahead of us in space launches. I knew my little rocket could never reach the moon, but I thought I could pump so much air up into it, the rocket would trail up into the clouds, which to me, then, at fourteen, seemed the most romantic notion in the world, that something in my hands could touch, pierce, the late evening drifting clouds.
I never got one up that high. Often, the wet spray of the lifting exhaust, God's spit, down the front of my t-shirt, I'd have to chase the rocket's descent through the hedges of several neighboring back yards, dogs barking in the gloom, back door bulbs creating rooms of yellow light off the porches, illuminating bald, middle-aged men in white undershirts, while I retrieved the strange ruby egg nestled atop a neighbor's garish green lawn, to try again, pump, pump, pump, the little ruby rocket sperming up, shrinking towards the emerald underbelly of the cloud mass, at which point, this past Tuesday, I finally, nearly forty years after that blue and purple evening by myself, fell asleep.
Of all our traits, perhaps the one which has most helped us evolve into what we are today is not the opposable thumb, but curiosity. We are an incredibly nosy race. We want to know everything, from what the inside of our neighbor's home looks like, to the mass of a quark. It's conceivable there are other intelligent life forms in this Universe far more technologically advanced than us, who could traverse galaxies but don't, simply because they have no curiosity about what's out there.
My friend Dave called me yesterday, Friday, to discuss a couple of business issues, then asked if I were free for lunch next week. While we were talking, a cloud of loud static drifted across our telephone conversation, after which I was switched to another connection, where a young man and woman were talking.
This happens sometimes. For whatever reason, you're suddenly transported to being an ear in someone else's private conversation.
I always listen, just like I always glance into open windows. It's eavesdropping, but it's fascinating, in large part because what you hear is so mundane.
Here's what I heard:
At which point I was snapped back to Dave, who hadn't realized I had been transplanted into someone's call, and was still going on about what he had been talking about. I instinctively put in an "Uh-huh", realizing I would never know how the young woman answered. Did she agree to go to lunch with this guy, or turn him down? Was what I heard the pivotal conversation that would eventually lead to marriage? I'll never know.
One of our most accepted forms of nosiness is reading the letters of famous people. I love them. Now there's a magazine out, Ghent, which publishes facsimiles of letters and notes famous and regular people have written. It's fascinating. Here's a handwritten note a maid left for a Deutsche Bank executive in his New York City hotel room on September 11: "I hope you are O.K. After all this I am totally devastated as I saw the towers crumbled before my eyes from your balcony. For laundry -- $10.00. Take care!" So The Link of the Week this time is to Ghent. Special thanks to Joe Meier for the suggestion.
Picture of me at about the age I started receiving lessons in my dreams on how to fly outside my bedroom window.